ACLU attorney Dan Pochoda with his golden retriever Blu.
Park in the wrong place in Maricopa County and you get jailed for misdemeanor trespassing. Well, at least if Sheriff's deputies are on site, and you happen to be a persistent critic of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
ACLU legal director Dan Pochoda found this out the hard way. He was on his way home Saturday and decided to stop by the day-laborer protest on the sidewalk before Pruitt's Home Furnishings. He was there to observe, he said, and introduce himself to Salvador Reza, the protest's leader.
Less than 30 minutes later, Pochoda, who has battled the Sheriff's office in court on many occasions, was in MCSO custody, handcuffed and headed to the Fourth Avenue Jail, where he had to cool his heels for over 10 hours on the sort of misdemeanor charge that rarely draws more than a summons.
"There have been times in my life where I have been in trouble and it was provoked," Pochoda, 65, told me. "This was not one of them."
Pochoda stated that the arrest came as a surprise, and that there was no indication that he was not allowed to park his '99 BMW on the Pruitt lot.
"There were other cars parked there," he recalled, still tired from the ordeal. "There was no sign or notice or indication it was not for parking. And there was no parking on the street."
Pochoda stated that, "The arrest and the handcuffing was after I identified myself and gave the two sheriff’s deputies my card."
Pochoda insisted he did nothing wrong, and did not deserve the treatment he received.
"There were no unlawful activities at all on my part," said Pochoda. "There was no reason for charges and no reason for an arrest. No reason to be kept in jail for 10 hours. Past the point where a friend put up the bail [at 4:30 p.m.], which was all of 150 bucks. No reason to impound my car, and on and on."
Initially deputies told Pochoda they would not have to impound his car. But apparently that changed while he was in custody. He has yet to get his car back, and does not know when he will.
The ACLU has locked horns with Arpaio in the past over the treatment of prisoners in MCSO jails, MCSO arrests of illegal immigrants, and, most recently, the inhumane conditions TB patent Robert Daniels was kept in while in MCSO custody, a cause celebre that brought near-universal condemnation down upon Arpaio and the MCSO.
The MCSO has claimed in other reports that they warned Pochoda to move his car. Pochoda would not address that charge, stating that he has yet to obtain a criminal lawyer, and that he felt a necessity to be limited in his statements until he had done so. He wondered if Pruitt's had actually made a complaint against him.
"The situation at Pruitt’s is getting quite severe," he told me. "There have been a number of other people arrested. The property is owned by Pruitt’s. Somebody may want to ask them whether they ordered someone arrested known to be an attorney who was on their property for just a few minutes."
Pochoda also called into question the need to arrest him for this violation.
"I don’t take any charge lightly, but it’s a misdemeanor 3," said Pochoda. "It’s not a felony charge, it’s not a charge of violence. It’s not a charge of endangerment in any way. No reason to be arrested and handcuffed and summoned to jail for 10 hours."
While at the Fourth Avenue Jail, Pochoda said he had a "bad experience," but "was not treated worse than others in there." He was held in a 20-by-20 foot cell with scores of others at first, then moved to a solitary cell with a concrete bench.
Asked if the experience helped put his work as an advocate for civil liberties into perspective, he observed,
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"It just brings home what is already been said about absolute power and how people are treated who have no resources. I knew it would pass for me. But for a lot of the others, it was not going to pass."
Following the arrests of New Times founders Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin and the citing of New Times reporter Ray Stern on a bogus charge, this latest bungle shows up Arpaio and the MCSO as vindictive and incautious. Pochoda, like Lacey and Larkin before him, vows to fight on.
"I can state on the record it will not stop any of our challenges or other activities," said Pochoda of the ACLU. "We are concerned about the Sheriff's overreaching and his unconstitutional behavior towards immigrants and many other things. This will not be stopped or harmed by this if that was his intent."
Other reports have quoted Arpaio as saying that the MCSO deputies who arrested Pochoda were not the off-duty officers hired by Pruitt's as security. If so, why were they there? Why did Arpaio rush down to Pruitt's after Pochoda's arrest to talk to reporters, and why did he show up with a contingent of on-duty MCSO officers last week, in support of the off-duty officers? The relationship between Pruitt's and the MCSO needs to be investigated further. Last time I checked, Pruitt's is in Phoenix city limits. So why is the MCSO giving this store special protection, when inside Phoenix city limits, the PHX PD should be the law enforcement agency with paramount authority? More on this donnybrook as it develops...